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Hope Floats For Struggling Houseboat Maker

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Hope Floats For Struggling Houseboat Maker

Hope Floats For Struggling Houseboat Maker

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There are signs the U.S. economy is limping back, but millions of Americans who lost jobs in this recession remain out of work. The unemployment rate could hit 10 percent before the worst is over. During President Obama's first 100 days in office, NPR's David Greene was on the road talking to people who lost jobs or were hit by the recession in other ways. We asked David to check in on some of the people he met, to see how or if things have changed. Here's what he found.

DAVID GREENE: As I made my way across 18 states last spring, I'd ask each person I interviewed if I could take their picture.

Can I get a photo of your outside with the boat? Would that be…

Ms. FAYE WOMACK: No. You are not going to take my picture.

GREENE: I have to. We got to get you on our Internet. Is that okay?

Ms. WOMACK: Look at me.

GREENE: You're beautiful.

Ms. WOMACK: You are on drugs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: That is a voice that stayed with me. She's Faye Womack, 54 years old. I met her in Columbia, Kentucky where she worked in a houseboat factory, but she had been laid off. I called Faye back a few days ago.

How are you?

Ms. WOMACK: I'm all right. How are you, David?

GREENE: I'm well, thanks for talking to me again.

Ms. WOMACK: Well, you're welcome.

GREENE: Turns out Faye is still unemployed.

Ms. WOMACK: It don't bother me being out of work, as bad as it did at first. At first I thought, what am I going to do, you know? What am I going to do with all my time?

GREENE: Well, have you ever been out of work for this long a period of time?

Ms. WOMACK: No. I've never been without a job this long - since I was 15.

GREENE: And Faye had more bad news. Just days before I called, she lost her mother. It was a long illness and, actually, Faye was grateful for the extra time at home.

Ms. WOMACK: I saw her just about every day and talked to her three or four times a day. And it's just odd that I was laid off the same time that mom passed away. And I just felt like it was meant to be that way.

GREENE: She is ready to work again, ready to get back into the factory, take orders, sew seat cushions like she used to, just to be busy again and make some money. She's been on unemployment struggling to pay for health insurance. Now, whether she gets that job back depends on her friend and former boss.

Mr. JIM HADLEY (President, CEO, Majestic Yachts, Incorporated): My name is Jim Hadley. I am the president and CEO of Majestic Yachts, Incorporated. We have two vice presidents, Mitchell Higginbotham and Bill Padgett. We are kind of like an old rock band. We've been together a long time and hopefully we'll be together a whole lot longer.

GREENE: That was February when Jim told me that his rock band once included Faye and some two dozen other employees. When the recession took hold, though, the last thing people wanted to do was go buy a giant houseboat. And so Jim had to lay off everybody. It was just Jim and those two vice presidents doing a few contract jobs. When I called Jim back recently, he said they had a lonely few months in an empty factory.

Mr. HADLEY: The three of us worked on construction projects. They helped pay the light bill, the phone bill and that sort of thing.

GREENE: They hope things might start looking up. In fact, Jim's been working on a strategy. It's a smaller, cheaper houseboat, something that's more affordable than the boats they had been making. Jim's skeleton crew built one of these new boats and did a test drive a few weeks ago - the first new boat made at his factory to touch water in more than a year.

Mr. HADLEY: The mayor, local media was here pretty much all day. And the hope that it's generated for the community to be able to bring jobs back to the community has just been tremendous.

GREENE: To build this single boat, Jim rehired two of the employees he had laid off. He's hoping to make more calls.

Mr. HADLEY: If I get four or five orders, I'll bring every one of our 24 people back to work immediately.

GREENE: That, of course, includes Faye. She and Jim talk just about every day. Faye said that if she is called back, her job could be different.

Ms. WOMACK: You know, I'll do whatever they tell me to do. I'll try whatever it is. And I'll let him tell me that I can't do it or whatever, but I'll try it anyway.

GREENE: Faye Womack and Jim Hadley, like so many Americans waiting this recession out and eager for even a small sign that things are coming back.

David Greene, NPR News.

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